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Road to the IGF: Blackwell's Asylum

Claudia Bille Stræde discusses directing and creating IGF 2013 student finalist Blackwell’s Asylum, a first-person horror game where players help a patient heavily influenced by narcotics try to escape a mad facility.
As part of our Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra is speaking to each of the student finalists in the 2013 Independent Games Festival to find out the story behind the games. Today we speak to Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment (DADIU) student Claudia Bille Stræde, director of Blackwell’s Asylum. In this first-person escape game, players struggle to control a heavily drugged patient who wants to break out of the mad facility. Here, Stræde discusses how the game stands out among the recent rash of indie horror titles and how the 1800s influenced the game's setting. What development tools did you use? Unity 3D, Photoshop, 3D Studio Max, MotionBuilder and other similar graphics tools. How long have you been working on your game? The game was a 6 week project with a team of about 16 people, production ended early December 2011. A few additional fixes were added later. We initially released the game in a browser versions, downloadable windows version, and downloadable mac version. Later the game was released on Steam as a demo-game. How did you come up with the concept? The concept was thought up based on a real story about Nellie Bly, a journalist in the late 1800's who faked insanity to write from the inside of the women's asylum on Blackwell's Island. This ended in our story about a sane woman trapped in an asylum and trying to get out. Based in the late 1800's style and graphics were taken from some of that times famous artists. What is it about the late 1800s that you enjoy so much? A world in flux is always fascinating to me. The late 1800s was a time of massive change, yet it seems to always be forgotten. The technological revolution was kicking in, medicine was taken to a whole new level – especially mental health care was progressing rapidly. A big inspiration for the game comes from an article by Nellie Bly, who spent ten days undercover in an insane asylum for women in 1887. I found that that particular story was a beautiful embodiment of a so called new world order on the rise. She was a hardworking, young, ambitious woman trying to prove her worth. What makes Blackwell's Asylum stand out among the sea of horror games released recently? In Blackwell’s Asylum, there are no ghosts, monsters or aliens. Humans are your worst enemy. I find it interesting how horrible humans have treated each other through history. In many ways it’s much more obscene than aliens attacking us, and at the same time relatable. It’s within human nature to strive for power over others; wrong as it may sound I find it to be true. How does your school prepare students for independent game development (compared to being groomed for AAA work)? I think DADIU focuses on us working together as a team, rather than making the perfect game. But having a team consisting of 18 hard working people, we found the opportunity to make a working game irresistible. DADIU creates the teams and gives us the proper tools to make a game. We have a few workshops and are then provided with hardware, software and somewhere for the production to take place. We don’t really get groomed to make independent games or AAA, but we get prepared to handle quite a big scale production, at least in Danish standards. It’s up to the individual team and director to decide the scope of the game. There are many good examples of small, well polished productions and on the other end of the scale a handful of nicely rounded vertical slices. What made you decide to get into making games? Games are a young art form, and in many ways a stuck one. In my opinion the game industry found its form way too early. There is plenty more to be explored, experimented with and created! I see it as a beautiful thing and it makes my fingers itch to get in there and turn some things around. What lessons did you learn in managing ideas from team of 16? Ideas are wonderful - the more the merrier! But once you have all those ideas on the table, there is a need for someone taking charge of them, in order to get one coherent game. It is my job as a director to make sure that we’re all going in the same direction.

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